The land of Palestine and its ghosts

Behind the most recent wave of violence, the same old obstacles are at play. The last chapter of a tragedy began in Palestine decades ago and still too far from any hope of solution.

Of all the magical places our world is abundant of, I think few can compete with the land of Palestine.
From the warm waters of the Mediterranean to the salty waters of the Dead Sea, from the torrid air in Masada to the fresh breeze on Mount Scopus, from the liveliness of Tel Aviv to the millennial history of Jerusalem, it is impossible not to get lost in its beauty.
Yet, few places in the world are less at peace.

For a land whose past has been made of wars, blood and hate, October 2015 will be another month remembered for its violence, for the death that brought with it and for the hopes of coexistence (if there still are) it broke.
In one single month, 54 Palestinians and 10 Israelis lost their life. The latest victims of a wave of daily violence triggered by the crisis erupted last month when Israelis entered the Al-Aqsa mosque for what their forces defined (quite vaguely) “security reasons” and Palestinians denounced it as Israel’s renewed attempt to change a status quo as old as that painful 1967 war.
It is indeed since that crucial armed conflict, that the holy site has been managed by Wafq – an Islamic foundation backed by Jordan – and that Israel has accepted that the site is open to prayer for Muslims only, and to visits only for Jews – whose prayer site is the Western Wall.
A status quo, though, too fragile for a place so relevant for the religious and historic identity of both peoples.
Third holiest site for the Muslims who believe it is from there that Mohammad ascended to Heaven, and first holy site for the Jews who believe their Biblical Temple was there, it has always – and inevitably – been a core issue at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. One of the most delicate ones actually, in which politics and religion confuse with each other and seem to leave no hope for solution.
An ever-open question that last month came once again on the surface to take the lives of too many.

It is indeed to address this latest wave of conflict and death that last week – after a series of meetings – the United States, Jordan, PA and Israel agreed on some steps to be taken to increase security at the holy site, that – under the proposal of King Abdullah II – will now be under 24-hour video surveillance.
Israel, moreover, reiterated that it recognizes “the importance of the Temple Mount to peoples of all three monotheistic faiths … and reaffirms its commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice.”
However, if the aim of such proposal is to de-escalate violence, it will hardly be successful.
The issue of al-Aqsa, in fact, goes well beyond enforcing surveillance to preserve a decades-long status quo. It is expression of a much deeper tragedy – that of two peoples who are too apart to share so much.
A tragedy that both sides have learnt to deal with only by exacerbating it.

On the Israeli side, in fact, what makes it difficult to expect any serious and long-term distension is Netanyahu’s political rhetoric and action, that doesn’t leave room to any compromise.
To deal with the current crisis, Netanyahu’s security cabinet opted for a series of steps that – if anything – will just have the effect of increasing resentment among Palestinians.
These include the order to reinforce the police; the authorization to enforce “closures” in some areas of East Jerusalem; the order to complete the fence raised in the West Bank; the decision to proceed with the confiscation of the property of Palestinian attackers and the demolition of their houses, as well as the revoke of residence rights.
The same old strategies that reveal a deep incapacity – or unwillingness – to give a honest and responsible lecture of the situation. The same old strategies that will bring Palestinians and Israelis even further apart, that will increase suspicion, fear and hostility among Israelis and that will feed Palestinians’ rancor towards a State that treats them as second-class citizens. As if it wasn’t enough, then, such measures will also weaken the moderateness of many Palestinians, strengthen the influence of those who see in attacks the only way to assert their rights, and increase the distorted perception – shared by not few young Palestinians whose life has been a continuous struggle for existence – that there is heroism in dying hitting Israel.
A reality that, after all, even Herzog reckoned when saying that terror is – at least partially I feel to add – the result of the frustration and hopelessness felt by Palestinians in front of Netanyahu’s policies, and when opposing to Netanyahu’s strategy of “managing the conflict” his preference for a “large and dramatic diplomatic action”.
For someone who states to be seeking security like Netanyahu is, responding to attacks with repression instead of offering the Palestinians living in Israel the opportunity of a lawful and continuous political expression that could reduce their reasons for resorting to violence is a debatable choice.
If to these measures, then, we add the aggressive and blind rhetoric of Netanyahu’s speeches, the situation could hardly be more gloom.
At a press conference held last Thursday, indeed, he couldn’t have chosen better words to alienate the Palestinians, when he referred to them as “terrorists” and “extremists” who have since the beginning obstructed the Zionist enterprise and who will be eventually rebuffed and defeated. Same dangerous and counter-productive rhetoric of the speech delivered at the Zionist Congress, when he referred to the ideology lying behind Palestinians’ attacks as a “medieval” one.
Nothing worse than delegitimizing the opponent’s ideology to close the door to dialogue.

Obstacles though, do no end here. On the Palestinian side, the main problem is represented by the lack of a unifying leader able to represent the Palestinian people in its unity.
Not only is the rivalry between Hamas and PA a perennial constant of Palestinian politics, but also Abbas has proved his failure to bring Palestinians together under a same clear, defined and cohesive political project. Incapable of giving his people a political path to follow, incapable of adopting at the eyes of Israel and its leaders a firm and coherent stance, Abbas is simply the wrong person in the wrong position at the wrong time.
What Palestinians need, in fact, is a political leader able and willing to give representation to all Palestinians: those in Gaza, those in Israel, those in the West Bank. A political leader able to draw a program of bilateral and international dialogue, able to adopt a determinate but peaceful project aimed at giving Palestinians that undeniable right of self-determination that they deserve as much as any other people do.
Only through such a political figure it would be possible for Palestinians to have a credible alternative to attacks that illusively appear to many as the only way out of oppression and discrimination, but that are actually a door that leads to self-destruction.
A crucial change is therefore needed in Palestinian policy at the leadership level. Clearly, not something that can be realized in a night, but not even something that can’t be realized at all.

That said, if implementing a system of video-surveillance in the Al-Aqsa compound has a chance to help to maintain the status quo and to prevent one of the holiest places in the world from becoming a cause of conflict and death, then it is clearly a news to be welcomed.
However, we should not forget that the al-Aqsa crisis was only a small part of a broader one. Which means that until the Israeli government adopts a more moderate stance and gives to Palestinians the possibility to make their voice heard through a legitimate channel of political expression, and until the Palestinians get united under a leader able to replace the logic of attacks with that of dialogue, that unique land that Palestine is will hardly get rid of its ghosts.


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